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Coal Bailout Exposed: Internal Documents Reveal Access, Influence of Energy Executives

By Alan Zibel

Last week, President Donald Trump directed U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to stop the closure of coal and nuclear plants, which are struggling financially as other forms of energy become more affordable.

The White House wants to bail out coal and nuclear plants using the U.S. Department of Energy’s emergency powers and a Cold War-era law that permits it to nationalize parts of the power sector, after trying and failing to do so by other means.

Trump’s actions are a breathtaking abuse of authority and another indication that the president – whose daily knee-jerk actions show neither thought nor policy knowledge – is heavily influenced by extremist corporations and industries.  Now, documents obtained by Public Citizen under the Freedom of Information Act show the dirty energy industry’s extensive efforts to obtain government assistance and roll back environmental protections.

The documents (PDF) reveal that:

  • Coal baron and climate change denialist Robert Murray developed six deregulatory executive orders and submitted them to the Trump administration suggesting ways to prop up the coal industry. In a memo dated March 28, 2017, Murray offered “a holistic strategy to help to bring American Coal back from the precipice of extinction.” The company cited its flagging finances in pushing for coal and nuclear subsidies, including the potential impact on union worker retirement plans. Trump, who has long embraced coal, has close ties to Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, the largest private coal company. In August 2017, Murray Energy donated $1 million to a super-PAC supporting Trump, and the company’s employees generously contributed to the Trump campaign.
  • Andrew Wheeler, a coal lobbyist who is now the second ranking official at the Environmental Protection Agency, helped Murray secure a meeting with Perry in spring 2017. He helpfully passed along his biography along with that of another company official.
  • Also meeting with Perry was Chuck Jones, CEO of FirstEnergy, a coal-burning utility based in Ohio that has been pushing for bailouts.

America’s coal and nuclear power plants have been rendered uneconomic because of the combination of cheaper renewables and gas, and flat power demand. There is no national security or reliability crisis stemming from the retirement of such facilities.

Last month, Public Citizen submitted a letter [PDF] to Perry opposing any effort to bail out these power plants and demanding transparency in the federal government’s consideration of such a bailout. Free-market conservatives and environmental groups alike are opposed. Public Citizen is committed to fight this outrageous bailout, through all available legal, legislative and regulatory means.